Catholics in defense of the soul.
The world of fiction is an ever-changing beast. Trends come and trends go, both reflecting and changing the culture of the day. You can see it in the epics of ancient Greece to the great playwright Shakespeare to the action flicks of the 1980s. Much can be gleaned about any given civilization simply from consuming its popular media.
While changes in these cultures have historically been measured in centuries, modern culture changes with whatever new wind happens to blow its way. As an author, I do my best to keep an eye on these trends. It has allowed me to notice something rather disturbing cropping up across a wide variety of media:
The lack of human souls.
When perusing and consuming popular culture, Catholics must always be aware of what we are putting into our minds. This much is a given, and most of the time is applied against more overt themes that pervade our current culture. Take, for example, the Force from Star Wars: A mysterious energy that binds us all together, both the living and the dead. It’s easy enough to look at this particular portrayal of the universe, you can understand that God is truly in charge of the universe.
And that all life and matter is ordered towards his glory, and dismiss the concept of the Force. This may sound like a rather silly example, but the concept of an all-binding force truly does mimic a number of real-world religions. Most notably Buddhism and these ideologies must be rejected in defense of the soul. As stated above, this is something that most Catholics will do automatically without much thought.
This is something that indeed the vast majority of the western world will simply filter out. However, not all such heresies are so easily caught. I first began to notice the rejection of the human soul while watching through Season 6 of The 100. If you haven’t seen the season and plan to: Spoilers ahead! For what it’s worth, I highly recommend the series as a fantastic mesh of multiple genres, excellent storytelling, and impeccable acting.
The most recent season had a rather unique subplot that flew in the face of not only established cannon of the series but proper truth in general. In short, the season focused around a group of individuals who were held to be immortal and worshipped by their own personal cult. Whenever one of them died, they would be subsequently resurrected in the body of an acceptable cult member. When the resurrection occurred, they would take over the body of that cultist, driving out personality, memory, etc., fully and completely stealing their bodies.
As the season progressed, the cultists eventually came to learn that the family of gods were not gods at all, but simply scientists who had figured out how to use their technology to perform the resurrections and thus ensure their immortality. That’s where I start to take issue with this plot in defense of the soul. The means by which the scientists performed their resurrection was fairly simple: They had memory chips planted in their heads which would store each and every memory that they ever made.
When they died, the chip simply ceased recording. The other scientists would then extract the chip and plant it in the brain of someone else. The chip would wipe the memory of the infected individual and insert the memories of the previous host, thus completing the resurrection. With the memories of the scientist inside their head, the host would fully become the scientist.
Did you catch that? If not, let me recap for the defense of the soul. The memories would be transferred, and that was considered a full transfer of the entire essence of the person. When main characters had their memories wiped, they were treated as the enemies rather than a known and loved individual who had simply had their memories altered. In one particularly powerful scene, the main character (Clarke) threw her own mother (Abigale) out an airlock because Abigale had been replaced by one of the villains.
Never was there any consideration that simply having your memories altered doesn’t mean that you’ve become an entirely new individual. And that brings me to the crux of what modern culture considers a soul. Memory. That’s it. The entire essence of who you are is fully dependent on your memories. You’re nothing more than a sack of meat with a bunch of memories telling you how to behave.
If your memories were transferred to another person’s body, you, yourself, would be transferred to that person’s body. I sincerely hope that sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me, but that’s the message of this particular season of The 100.
For reference, the Catholic Church teaches that a soul is “The spiritual principle of human beings. The soul is the subject of human consciousness and freedom; soul and body together form one unique human nature. Each human soul is individual and immortal, immediately created by God. The soul does not die with the body, from which it is separated by death, and with which it will be reunited in the final resurrection.”
What we see here is what I believe our culture is attempting to impose over the idea of a soul. In defense of the soul, the concept of a soul is necessary for even a basic understanding of our world. Humans are obviously more than just a body, and yet we cannot function in this world without a body.
However, as religion is ever-more rejected in our society, humanity has to come up with SOME sort of explanation for this dichotomy. While this view that memory constitutes our soul hasn’t necessarily been formally “dogmatized” by secular authorities, I truly do believe that this is the fundamental path that our culture is following.
Of course, one season of one tv show is hardly proof that our entire society is moving in that direction. As such, here’s a few more examples. The most high-profile piece of popular culture I’ve seen feature this has been Frozen II. A rather spectacular piece of cinema that only pales in comparison to the original, it’s a wildly fun romp through the woods of Arendelle. At least until Olaf dies.
As Elsa falls prey to a trap that she literally ran straight into while ignoring every single warning sign possible, her magic fades and Olaf dissolves into a pile of snow. It’s a sad, tragic moment that winds up being completely undone at the end of the movie. It is when Elsa simply uses her magic to resurrect him. Except… Once again, it’s not really a resurrection.
Rather than bringing the old Olaf to life, she creates a new Olaf using his old material. They make a comment about water having memory (a minor plot point throughout the movie), and that’s that. They all treat him as being alive once more, as if this new Olaf is fundamentally the same as the old one.
For a third example, we need to look into the world of comic books, specifically Marvel’s newer X-Men stories. Without going into all the details, as above, a large number of the main characters are killed and subsequently resurrected by using a mutant’s power to create clones of the characters and then transfer the memories from the originals into the bodies of the clones. From here, the examples spiral onward in my defense of the soul. The entire premise of Altered Carbon (a Netflix tv show based upon novels of the same name) rests upon this particular philosophy.
Where memories stored in Stacks can be transferred from one body to the next. What may seem at a glance to just be isolated incidents seems to me to be a rapidly spreading ideology that, as stated above, is both a reflection of our culture and a medium that is making impressions upon our culture.The question to come from this, naturally, is: Why is this important?
If Catholics know to filter this particular pitfall, is that enough? If the secular world is being influenced by these ideas, will it really matter on the grand scale of things? And… yes. Absolutely, overwhelmingly, yes. I spend a decent amount of time on Facebook. More than I should, most likely, especially given how many political posts wind up I wind up scowling at in frustration.
One of them in particular has stood out in my mind. In which a pro-choice advocate claims that if she had been aborted, it would have been okay, as she would never have become a sentient being and thus it would have been the same as if she had never been conceived in the first place.
Please read that last sentence again. And then a third time for the defense of the soul. THIS is the mindset of so many people who are open to the prospect of abortion. I’ve seen this argument formulated in dozens of different ways since seeing this post. It all ties back to this concept that we see in fiction today.
If the human soul is rejected, then memories must be the essence of who we are. If a human has no memories, then that human is nothing more than a sack of meat without a soul. The exact same principle is easily applied to euthanasia of the elderly, which is slowly becoming legal in more and more places around the world. When a person begins to lose their memories, they begin to lose their soul, culminating in becoming a living corpse.
This is why this is such a critical issue. Lives are being lost because this attitude has pervaded the mindsets of so many people. Yes, I fully realize that people would still hold to this view even if it was never given a voice and that simply watching different television shows won’t fix the issue. That said, I truly believe that there is recourse to be taken here.
As I’ve stated above, entertainment is used both to reflect and to influence culture. Because of this, I certainly don’t believe that withdrawing from culture is a viable or even advisable option when it comes to facing these issues. We are called to be in the world, just not of the world. With that, I don’t think that completely unplugging yourself, removing yourself from all forms of entertainment, will allow you to remain relevant and credible in the current world.
What I do think is that we as Catholics need to be incredibly careful about what we consume and what we promote to others. This issue, so minor and seemingly innocuous, is one that is growing steadily in both our world and our culture. The fight for life is the preeminent issue that we face here in America. It just happens that that battleground extends into far more unique and fantastic worlds than may meet the eye.
STAY IN THE DEFENSE OF THE SOUL!